Traeger can more than take on the king of flat-top grills, but it will cost you.
Now that spring has sprung, it falls to me to start testing and reviewing grills, griddles, pizza ovens and smokers again. It's one of my favorite times of the year. Virginia is still chilly, but the sun is shining, and that is all I need to bust out the giant tongs and get to cooking.
This year Traeger surprised us with the Flatrock, its take on the Blackstone, the reigning champ of flat-top griddle cooking. And I've spent some time cooking up a storm of tacos and smash burgers to see exactly how it stacks up.
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The first thing I noticed when assembling the Flatrock was how well all components fit together. Every bolt fits perfectly, and every part has a heft that suggests it will stand the test of time. Often grills and griddles use that thin steel for their legs, which buckles under the pressure of a heavy lean, or plastic wheels that crack under the weight they're supposed to carry. Even the dials have a knurling effect on them that feels sophisticated and classy. Like all of Traeger's high-end offerings, the Flatrock is so well constructed I think it will outlast the deck it sits on.
The cooking surface itself is carbon steel and recessed into the Flatrock with very little in the way of gaps. This adds the benefit of keeping the heat from the burners under the surface instead of it leaking out. The Flatrock has three zones for cooking, each with a U-shaped burner. Each of them works hard to keep the heat even across the surface, but if you heat the entire thing on high when you start it up, it's hard to cool one section before everything has finished cooking.
Before you get to cook on the Flatrock, you have to cure the steel. When you first put the steel plate in, the surface is incredibly rough. To cure the top you have to use vegetable oil to create a nonstick surface to work on, much like a skillet. It's a long process, but one I enjoyed as I could see it working, and by the end of the process, the entire cooking area had a black sheen that's smooth enough to cook eggs on.
For my testing, I made chicken and beef teriyaki, egg-fried rice, chicken tacos and smash burgers. Everything I cooked worked extremely well. Even though I cooked the food over every part of the cooktop, it all cooked evenly, and none of the sticky sauces burnt onto the surface. A simple scraper pulled all the leftovers into the grease trap, leaving me to wipe it down with a wet cloth to clean it. So easy.
Anyone who has used a griddle knows how good the taste is, and the Flatrock lives up to that tradition. I enjoyed the addition of Traeger's signature Pop and Lock system of accessories as I have a Traeger smoker with the same system so I can share accessories between the two. The secure roller is my favorite there, as it can be used to hold a blue paper towel or brown butcher paper with equal ease. The Flatrock has a shelf on either side of the hotplate, which can be folded down when not in use but are both solid when upright.
The Flatrock is not cheap. At $900, it puts itself squarely in the premium griddle category alongside the Blackstone 28 XL, one of that company's higher-end offerings. The 28 XL has about 19 square inches more cooking space than the Flatrock, but the two units match each other in every other way. I prefer the rounded construction of the Flatrock; it feels more stable when I use it. I hope that, if the Flatrock is successful, we will see a more affordable version from Traeger at some point.
My only other mild irritation is the placement of the oil catcher. The hole for it is slightly off-center to the left and is straight where I move the food whenever I cook. This isn't a massive problem, but I would have liked it to be a little further to the side to keep it clear from the main cooking area. I do like that it has a removable grease trap, though, especially as it incorporates a removable metal tin that is easy to dispose of.
While I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Flatrock for first-time buyers -- you can pick up a decent griddle for half the price -- it's a good choice if you want to splash out on a grill that will last many seasons.